Andrew Willshire

How Germany helped shape the conditions for Brexit

German political leaders, industrialists, artists and sportspeople wrote to the Times last week urging Brits to reconsider and stay in the EU. The letter was a mixture of gratitude that Britain had been willing to let Germany rejoin the ranks of civilised nations after the horrors of war, and a rather patronising list of the oh-so-adorable British quirks and foibles: our black humour, our curious habit of drinking tea with milk, drinking ale, driving on the left and pantomimes. But what really struck me was that, for all the warm words, there was no recognition that modern German politics might have played a role in Brexit, let alone a hint of contrition.

In 1978, when Denis Healey was chancellor, he learned from a senior German negotiator that the European exchange mechanism (ERM) was designed to prevent an overvaluation of the Deutsche mark, “thus keeping Germany more competitive and other countries less so”. Although the UK finally did join in 1990, German economic policy of high interest rates underpinning the strength of the Deutsch mark forced it back out again, despite the UK government hiking interest rates dramatically. This caused considerable pain for many British homeowners and businesses, resulting in a sharp recession.

More recently, Germany has continued to put its own economic interests before others, pursuing an illegal trade surplus with the rest of the eurozone. It would be possible for Germany to stimulate eurozone growth through tax cuts and domestic infrastructure spending but there seems little prospect of this happening. Furthermore, it is primarily German opposition to fiscal transfers within eurozone countries which is arguably preventing the proper operation of the single currency. Instead, its policies are sucking demand out of the continent, resulting in perpetual slow growth. Strangely, however, there has not been the same degree of condemnation from the European Commission as there was towards Italy for breaching its obligations on its deficit.

Following the 2008 crisis, Greece was thrown to the wolves by Germany and France.

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